The East Bay congressional delegation is compiling first-come, first-serve waiting lists of those who want free — and hard to get — tickets to the Jan. 20 presidential inaugural ceremony in Washington, D.C.

But federal lawmakers are warning the hundreds of constituents who have called or sent e-mail requests for tickets that a spot on the list offers no guarantees.

Members do not know how many of the estimated 250,000 tickets their offices will receive from the Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee. Ticket-holders will have access to the outdoor viewing area on the west front of the Capitol.

Lawmakers' phones started ringing months ago, but the volume ramped up after the historic Nov. 4 election of Barack Obama, who is poised to become the nation's first African-American president.

It's unclear how many tickets will end up in the hands of constituents versus how many will go to federal officials, their staffs and well-connected political friends.

But East Bay members of Congress all say they have started lists and several are allowing constituents to sign up online.

"We started a first-come, first-serve list because we anticipate there will be more people who want tickets than what we will receive from the committee," said Robert Kellar, spokesman for Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo.

Ricci Graham, spokesman for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said the same applies for her office.

"We are not aware of how many tickets our office will receive," Graham said. "We are, however, receiving an extremely high volume of requests, which clearly speaks to the enthusiasm and hope for President-elect Barack Obama."

If you decide to pursue the tickets elsewhere, a Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee spokesman offers this warning: Beware of brokers promising tickets for a price.

"Any Web site or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth," said Howard Gantman, joint committee staff director.

Tickets for the swearing-in of the president-elect are all provided through members of Congress, and the president-elect and vice president-elect through the Presidential Inaugural Committee, he said.

In an effort to curb scalping, the free tickets must be picked up in person and will not be handed out until a week before the inauguration.

"We urge the public to view any offers of tickets for sale with great skepticism," Gantman said.

Meanwhile, joint committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein is writing to Internet sites such as eBay asking them not to sell scalped inauguration tickets. She is also writing a bill that would make it a federal crime to scalp tickets to the historic event.

Members of Congress, federal officials and their staffs are prohibited under ethics laws to sell the tickets. No laws stop a citizen who obtains a free ticket from selling it at whatever price the market will bear.

With all this ticket uncertainty, congressional staff members say eager constituents should make their plans with or without one.

A ticket may get you closer to the ceremony, but the inaugural parade route and many of the capital city's public spaces will be open to the public. Many expect the crowd outside the viewing area will exceed that of the ticket-holders.

There are also numerous traditional inaugural parties, balls and other events. For an event schedule, visit inaugural.senate.gov. Your congressman or -woman's office will also have details.

"If you want to be in Washington, come enjoy the experience with or without that ticket," said Kellar, of Tauscher's office. "It will be a great time to be here."

On the other hand, it's bone cold in Washington, D.C. in January.

Being at the inauguration in person may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but so is frostbite.

The inauguration may be a lot more comfortable from a warm living room and a lot easier to see via high-definition television.

Staff writer Josh Richman contributed to this story.

INAUGURATION
TICKETS
To put your name on a waiting list for a free ticket to the Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony in Washington, D.C., contact the offices of the two California senators or a member of Congress:
  • REP. JERRY MCNERNEY, D-PLEASANTON -- 202-225-1947
  • REP. GEORGE MILLER, D-MARTINEZ -- 925-602-1880
  • REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER, D-ALAMO -- www.tauscher.house.gov or 925-932-8899
  • REP. BARBARA LEE, D-OAKLAND -- 510-763-0370
  • REP. PETE STARK, D- FREMONT -- www.house.gov/stark or 510-494-1388
  • SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN -- tickets@feinstein.senate.gov
  • SEN. BARBARA BOXER -- 415-403-0100
  • OFFICIAL INAUGURAL SITE: Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies' Web site at inaugural.senate.gov/
  • ONLINE TIP: To find the name of your representative, enter your ZIP code at https://writerep.house.gov/ or www.votesmart.org.
    Source: MediaNews research